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June 4, 2013

Avoiding the Chore Wars

Image: Flickr/Jessica Lucia

Image: Flickr/Jessica Lucia

Ah…summertime. The living is easy. The fish are jumping. The cotton is high.

And your house is a disaster!
With kids out of school and laying around the house all day, how in the world are you supposed to be able to keep it livable in there? It’s time to get serious about chores.
Chores are loaded with life lessons. Chores remind us that living indoors is a privilege that comes with responsibilities. Chores foster a sense of shared ownership and a respect for property. Chores are previews of what it’s like to work in the real world.
In short, chores help us prepare our children for life on their own, and those lessons are best taught young. Introduce kids to the value of work early on, before they become allergic to it later.
In the beginning, you’ll have to do most of the heavy lifting, but your effort is aimed toward the future. As with any behavior, a little work on the front end will pay hefty dividends in days to come. As your child internalizes some sense of responsibility, the need for parental prodding decreases.
I’ve found that little ones love to help out, especially if they think chores are for grown-ups. Take full advantage of a toddler’s penchant to imitate by giving them their own rag to help wipe the table or dry their sippy cup. Let them hold onto the broom while you vacuum. Odds are they’ll make as much of a mess as they clean, but you’re nurturing something positive in them — a sense that their help is appreciated and expected.
Preschoolers can put away puzzles or toss their cup into the sink. They can help set the table, put clothes where they belong and keep common areas from violating too many health codes.
Joint ventures are always a good option. In our house, we found that our kids give us twice as much help if we do chores with them. For example, I may wash and one of my daughters will dry. But you don’t always have to be present. In fact, some things should be solely your child’s responsibility. On the whole, however, timing your work to coincide with hers should improve her output — and her outlook.
Another good thing about shared chores: they have a way of allowing your child the opportunity to open up about what she is thinking or feeling. The highly elusive “quality time” we’ve all heard about often shows up spontaneously while folding the laundry or emptying the dishwasher. Chores are often prime times for our kids to talk to us — even if it is just because we’re the only ones around!
Of course, as kids get older more activities compete for their time. So, it might behoove you to structure your expectations. You may need some strategies for making children’s chores less work for you than for them. Also, most kids are content to do nothing for 10 or 11 weeks from June to August. Your “To Do” list doesn’t always jive with their “Will Do” list. So, how do you keep a four-minute chore from becoming a 40-minute war?
Below are some suggestions for making chores less of a challenge.
First, make a list of household duties you would like from your kids. Then, divide the list into family chores (things that are expected because the child is part of the family) and paying chores (things that are linked to an allowance or that the child can do to pick up some extra cash).
Second, tell your kids that they can only do the paying chores if the family chores are up to date. Also, tell them that any daily duty (a “core chore”) must be complete before any privileges begin. In other words, no TV, computer, phone, pool, friends, etc. are available until the bathroom has been fumigated.
For younger children, you might want to construct a chore wheel. List household tasks or rooms to be cleaned, and everyone spins the wheel for an assigned task until all have been delegated. A variation of this includes flipping a coin to decide who washes and who dries, pulling chores out of a hat or tossing a velcro ball at a chore chart.
That last one might actually develop some hand-eye coordination. They’ll learn to hit the two-inch square that says, “Clean the computer screen” from across the room while avoiding the two-foot poster that says, “Clean out the refrigerator”.

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